Transcript of John Avery Lomax

This is Texas Originals. From Humanities Texas, for the advancement of heritage, culture, and education.

Folklorist John Lomax spent his life collecting songs. According to one writer, Lomax would find the music among "chuck wagons, on levees and railroads, in the saloons, churches, and penitentiaries of the South and Southwest."

John Lomax's lifelong commitment to preserving folksong began when he first heard cowboy ballads near the Chisholm Trail in Bosque County, Texas.

He graduated from The University of Texas in 1897 and later attended Harvard University.

Lomax's first book, Cowboy Songs, was published in 1910 and introduced standards such as "Home on the Range." His later books broadened the collection to include prison songs plus African American spirituals and blues. Lomax was fascinated by the songs and folklore of those groups at the margins of American society.

John Lomax and his son Alan recorded thousands of songs and helped launch the musical careers of Muddy Waters, Woody Guthrie, Jelly Roll Morton, and a Louisiana convict named Huddie Ledbetter, more commonly known as Leadbelly.

Although early scholars generally viewed folk music as an unchanging tradition, Lomax demonstrated its creative process. He highlighted how centuries-old songs became new American stories as singers added extra verses, different melodies, and new plot twists.

Upon his death in 1948, the New York Times quoted the poet Walt Whitman: "If anybody ever did, John Lomax really heard America singing."

More information about John Avery Lomax and other Texas Originals is available at This program is produced by KUHF Houston Public Radio and Humanities Texas, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.